Editorial: System fails kids in care

Statistical analysis can be a dry subject, but not in the case of the report on how children and youth in B.C. government care are doing — these statistics measure how real people are faring.

Many are not faring well — the report notes that 50 per cent of young people leaving the child-welfare system at age 19 are on income assistance within six months.

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The statistical report should not be seen as a means of pointing fingers, but as a tool for determining where improvements are needed.

The government released the report seven years after former judge Ted Hughes reviewed B.C.’s child-welfare system and called for an assessment of the system.

“Measurements that are based on actual results will give the ministry and the public a better understanding of the children and young people in its care, and what effects its programs are having on their lives,” Hughes wrote in his review released on April 7, 2006.

If you don’t know something is broken, you can’t fix it. The statistical report should clearly tell the government what front-line workers have known for years — the system is failing some of its clients.

More money isn’t always the answer, but in this case, more funding for caseworkers and resources is clearly needed to help young people in government care to become self-reliant citizens.

The first aim of the child-welfare system is survival — getting children out of unsafe or unhealthy situations and providing basic necessities. But it isn’t enough to survive — they need to thrive. The next step should be to ensure they have the tools to handle the responsibilities and challenges of adult life after they leave the system.

Entering adulthood is traumatic enough for young people from stable homes with supportive families. A person who has been bounced from one foster home to another, who has never known stability, who has little sense of self-worth, will find the challenges overwhelming.

We should ensure, as much as possible, that those in government care are adequately educated, have essential social skills and have enough confidence to embark upon post-secondary education or training. It’s a tall order, given the backgrounds from which many of them come, but it’s a goal worth pursuing.

For too many in the child-welfare system and other government-assistance programs, coming of age is, as representative for children and youth Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond described it, like “falling off a cliff.” The early 20s is a period when many mental-health problems and other conditions come to the fore, and yet some of those most needing support are left to forage on their own at their most vulnerable time.

The problems are best addressed upstream. If more foster children can be steered onto productive, fulfilling paths in their younger years, the resources used will be money saved in later income-assistance payments. These are people who will become contributors to society, instead of dependants.

It’s not just about funding — Turpel-Lafond has criticized the child-welfare system in the past for confusing directives, a lack of training and poor communication — but it’s obvious that a caseworker overburdened with too many files cannot function effectively.

Never mind who’s to blame for young people slipping through the cracks. Let’s get on with finding the ways and means to give children under government care a better chance at being successful adults. We will all benefit.

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